Nearly a year after removal, historical marker still in limbo

Marker 67 sits in a Kentucky Department of Highways District 3 storage facility.

More than a year after it was quietly removed from Western Kentucky University’s campus, a historical marker noting the simple historical fact that Bowling Green was once occupied by Confederate forces during the Civil War and named as the rebels’ unofficial state capital remains locked away in storage.

It now seems likely to remain there indefinitely, especially with the leader of the Kentucky Historical Society – the agency responsible for overseeing the state’s historical marker program – unwilling to say much about the status of its relocation.

“There are no changes in the status of the marker,” KHS Executive Director Scott Alvey wrote to the Daily News in an email last week in response to its latest query.

Despite roughly 14 months of inquiries by the Daily News, little seems to have changed with Marker 67’s status. Daily News calls placed with Alvey’s office consistently go unreturned, and the executive director only communicates in brief, emailed responses that offer little details or elaboration on the newspaper’s questions.

“As I’ve shared previously, building community support is vital for determining the placement of historical markers. At this time, Kentucky Historical Society has not received any communication expressing community support for placement of Marker 67,” Alvey wrote to the Daily News on Oct. 16.

What exactly constitutes “building community support,” however, has been left nebulous and ill-defined.

The Daily News followed up by asking for more details, including whether the KHS had considered organizing a local public forum and inviting the community to gauge its views on the marker. However, as of this editorial writing, it had received no response from Alvey – phone call, email or otherwise.

In July, responding to another Daily News request, Alvey wrote in an email that “I’m not able to comment on the process for local communities to erect monuments, markers, etc. To be a marker of the KHS Historical Marker Program, it must go through our approval process previously shared.”

To that end, Alvey has previously stated that the process would begin with “somebody willing to sponsor the marker in the community” but later amended that statement, adding: “It is not simply someone coming forward to take the marker. We are not giving it away. The Kentucky Historical Society has not received any communication from an organization or individual willing to initiate the process of organizing community support for the marker.”

Once a community stakeholder comes forward, a review process can begin, but the KHS will not relocate a roadside marker without any stakeholder support, Alvey previously said.

Still, Alvey’s statements don’t seem to line up with reality. A review of the official webpage of Kentucky’s Historical Marker Program – including instructions about how to submit an application for one – reveal how positively Kafkaesque the process is.

Even if someone from the community was to step forward and express an interest in taking up the marker’s relocation, they’d immediately hit a wall because requests for new markers remain suspended, according to a notice on the KHS’ website.

The notice reads: “Applications for the KHS Historical Marker program are currently suspended. While we are not accepting applications for new markers at this time, we continue to maintain existing markers and the Explore KYHistory app and website. Explore KYHistory features stories and information representing many of the historical markers throughout the Commonwealth, and our staff adds to this database steadily and continually.”

A similar notice has been advertised on the webpage since at least mid-February of this year, according to previous reporting by the Daily News. That presumably indicates that the application process has been suspended for most of 2021.

Given that fact, we have to wonder about the honesty of Alvey’s statement that the KHS has not received “any communication expressing community support for placement of Marker 67.” How could it?

With all this rigamarole, we have to wonder what makes this particular historical marker so different from any other? If it was simply recognizing some uncontroversial local historical figure, would it still remain tucked away from the public? We don’t believe so.

It follows that it must be the content of the marker itself that has the KHS so tight-lipped – not that it should, of course.

Marker 67 simply states that Bowling Green was briefly named the Confederate state capital of Kentucky in 1861. Ultimately, Confederate forces pulled out of Bowling Green and the city was later held by the Union during the war.

Simply noting that historical fact isn’t an endorsement of the Confederacy or its principles, but we have to conclude that the KHS (and maybe some local elected officials) seem to be playing politics with plain historical truth.

It’s a real shame, too, because displaying Marker 67 – perhaps even next to a similar Union stone atop Hospital Hill – would at least give us a fuller picture of Bowling Green’s involvement in America’s bloodiest war.

Heck, it would even align with the Kentucky Historical Society’s own mission statement: “We educate and engage the public through Kentucky’s history in order to meet the challenges of the future.”

What’s so “problematic” about that? Surely, we can all agree that everyone loses when historical facts are swept under the rug because a few connected people would rather not bother.

“Our Opinion” pieces in the Bowling Green Daily News exclusively represent the majority opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints or beliefs of any other Daily News employees.